The food world is obsessed with protein right now. Companies are finding ways to cram it into pancake mixes, cereals, and even chips.
But health nuts may wrinkle their noses upon learning about this high-protein milk, which scientists say is produced by pregnant cockroaches.
A new study in the International Union of Crystallography journal has found that the Diploptera punctata cockroach, the only species that gives birth to live young, feeds its growing embryos a substance that has more than three times the energy of other mammals' milks like cow or buffalo.
The pregnant roaches secrete a protein-rich liquid milk through the wall of the brood sac, its version of a uterus, which the embryo eats. The substance, which the embryo stores as complete nutrients in crystal form, gives its body a 60-fold boost in protein while it's growing.
An american cockroach (Periplaneta americana), on which a radio tag is attached, is seen at the Universite libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels March 6, 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman)
"The crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids," researcher Sanchari Banerjee told The Times of India.
The substance is also fascinating because more protein is released as the embryo uses it up.
"If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete, this is it," researcher Subramanian Ramaswamy told the Times.
Bug experts have known that this roach released food through its brood sac for a long time, according to The Washington Post, but just assumed that the roach embryos digested the food right away, instead of storing it in crystal form.
"If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete, this is it."
But the milk's potential to end up in our smoothies is unknown. While a cockroach farm would likely have a lower environmental impact than a cattle one, the insects are a bit harder to milk than cows.
Study author Leonard Chavas told CNN that they would have to reverse bioengineer the substance, but want to understand more about how the bugs make it first.
"For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production," he said.
He also said that he tasted it once after losing a drinking game, and said it doesn't taste like much.
Ramaswamy told the Post the researchers weren't actually even trying to come up with a new protein supplement — instead, they were just curious.
“In the U.S. there is a big thrust that all research has to be translational [to humans],” he said.
There could also be another big hurdle to human consumption, besides disgust. We don't yet know whether or not it's toxic to humans, Ramaswamy told the Post.
What do you think? If roach milk popped up in stores, would you buy it? Let us know in the comments below. You can also see more on the story in the video above.
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